Lessons from Advocacy

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My name is Sarah Karerat and I’m spending this summer working at WomenSafe, an organization in Addison County that works towards the elimination of domestic and sexual violence. WomenSafe’s services include a 24-hour hotline, direct advocacy services, outreach to underserved communities, support groups, supervised visitation for parents, and community education. I primarily work as a direct service advocate. This advocacy consists of providing survivors with whatever kind of support they may need, or directing them to whoever can. Thus, sometimes my advocacy works consists of simply picking up the phone and lending an ear, but it can also involve providing emotional support during relief from Abuse hearings at the courthouse, or facilitating survivors’ entry into an emergency housing program to enable them to flee their abusive partner. The key word here is certainly ‘support’, though I’ve learned that a fundamental part of this job is knowing that we are not here to help survivors, but rather, to enable them to help themselves. After all, it is their strength that has carried them thus far and that will continue to. This has been an incredibly valuable lesson that solidified itself for me at WomenSafe, and is something that I will hold with me throughout my future work in any communities.

As for now, I am glad that the bubble of Middlebury College has popped in my life; it has been incredibly informative and humbling to learn about the realities of poverty in Addison County. I spent half of my childhood living in large cities in India where a significant population lives in poverty, but this summer has shown me that poverty takes on many different personalities. I have started to understand poverty as it manifests itself in Vermont, and the community response to it in this area. My training and subsequent experiential learning at WomenSafe has also vastly increased my understanding of the intricacies of trauma and violence. Despite telling myself to separate my work and my personal life, with work like this, I feel that I have experienced a fundamental shift in perspective that influences all aspects of my life. The way that I view my own behavior, my interactions with others, and relationships and interactions around me has changed. In fact, it would probably be most accurate to say that my perspective has grown; I feel that it will constantly change, hopefully for the better!

Of course, WomenSafe is a nonprofit organization, and I’ve learned from my time spent on meticulous data entry that there are many hoops to jump through in order to do anything community-related. Luckily, among the stress of this all, WomenSafe is an incredibly supportive workplace where self-care is key. The empathy that I see as so essential to my advocacy work is ever-present among colleagues too.

Needless to say, I feel blessed to have this opportunity to learn at an organization like WomenSafe and to have the privilege of witnessing the strength of individuals across Addison County. I look forward to these last few weeks as an intern and volunteering thereafter.